Illinois Public Media News
Urbana's city clerk has reversed course and will hold a lottery this coming Wednesday to determine which party is first on the ballot in next month's municipal election.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield and Green candidate Durl Kruse filed suit Thursday to demand the ballot lottery, which they say is required by state law. Clark had used the order in which candidates filed petitions to set the ballot, which put her own party, the Democrats, first in line.
In a statement issued late yesterday (Friday), Clark said had been reluctant to hold a ballot lottery so soon before the election, out of concern "for those people who have already voted during the early voting process because I did not want those voters disenfranchised". But Clark said Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden has now stated in writing that a new ballot would not endanger early votes already cast. She's scheduled the ballot lottery for Wednesday morning at 10, at the Urbana City Council chamber.
Green Party mayoral candidate Durl Kruse says he's glad that Clark has decided to hold a ballot lottery, but says he's baffled by the delay. He says Shelden had given assurances early on that early voting ballots would still be counted if a ballot lottery required new ballots.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield says he's "thrilled" that Clark is holding the ballot lottery in accordance with state law. But he called it "sad" that the decision was not made until after he and Kruse filed their lawsuit.
Bradfield and Kruse says the ballot lottery is important, because the order in which candidates are listed can have an impact on vote totals.
The re-opening of Prairie Center Health System's detox unit in Champaign is paying immediate dividends for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Most of the facility's 10 beds have remained filled since it reopened last week. State funds were restored to the unit last month; the facility had been closed since August. But spokeswoman Betty Seidel says the uncertainty over getting that money for another year has prompted a series of community forums on the Detox unit's long-term viability. Seidel says health care professionals and law enforcement from Champaign, Vermilion and Ford Counties are seeking out additional resources, and they don't necessarily include money.
"Nursing, medicine, training, or something of that sort," says Seidel. "We haven't really exausted all the possibilties of help that we feel would keep the doors open and we feel strong that we can go a year. But beyond the year, we know that need to have some more resources," Seidel says the first in the series of forums last week served largely as a tutorial on what services are provided at the Detox facility. Attendees included county sheriff's departments, those from hospital emergency rooms, and mental health professionals that are often responsible for bringing patients into the detox unit. Prairie Center does have one fundraiser scheduled. All the funds from its annual golf outing this June will go towards that facility.
The co-founder of the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum in Arcola says it was a sad decision but a necessary one - the museum will close this summer and most exhibits moved to a museum in New York.
Joni Gruelle Wannamaker is the granddaughter of Johnny Gruelle, who was raised in Arcola and created the scruffy red-haired dolls in 1915. Wannamaker says she and her husband Tom left their jobs in Atlanta ten years ago to build the museum, but she says advancing age, declining attendance - and a drop in overall tourism in the Douglas County area -- forced the decision to close.
"We have done a lot of advertising over the years, advertising for Arcola and the surrounding area," Wannamaker said. "But perhaps there was a change at the Chamber of Commerce...I just don't know."
Wannamaker says she and Tom were impressed with the museum where the Raggedy Ann and Andy exhibits will be headed, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester New York - the dolls are already in that museum's National Toy Hall of Fame. But Wannamaker says she and her husband are staying in Arcola.
Economic development was a key plank in Laurel Prussing's platform when she first ran for mayor of Urbana. Prussing narrowly defeated Tod Sattherthwaite with the argument that the incumbent hadn't done enough to attract business to the city. Now Prussing faces three challengers who each say they could do a better job, in spite of a recession. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The Republican and Green Party candidates for Urbana Mayor are suing the current mayor and city clerk, over the failure to hold a lottery to determine which party shows up first on the April 7th ballot.
Right now, Democrats, including incumbent Mayor Laurel Prussing, will be listed at the top of the ballot in Urbana in the April election. But Green Party candidate Durl Kruse and Republican Rex Bradfield say state election law requires a lottery to determine the order in which candidates are listed by party. Urbana officials admit no lottery was held for this election. And the attorney for Kruse and Bradfield, Bob Auler, says Urbana City Clerk Phyllis Clark failed to hold ballot lotteries in at least two previous elections. Auler says Democrats have been listed at the top of the ballot in the four previous elections held in Urbana under Clark, who is herself a Democrat. "We think that's just kind of funny", says Auler.
Kruse and Bradfield cite studies that show that the candidate listed at the top of the ballot typically gets more votes than if they were listed further down. They say that's why the state requires a lottery to determine ballot positions.
The motion filed in Champaign County Circuit Court on Thursday seeks a temporary restraining order requiring Urbana officials to hold a ballot lottery. The chairs of the Republican and Green Parties in Champaign County have added their names to the complaint. Kruse says Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden has told them that the county would pick up the expense of reprinting ballots and resetting election equipment, if the results of the lottery required it.
Calls to Urbana city officials Thursday have not yet been returned.
Parking in downtown Champaign would be free starting at seven PM --- that's part of a proposal from city staff that the Champaign City Council will look at during their study session next Tuesday.
City officials increased downtown parking rates and hours a year ago. That included charging for parking until 9 PM. But Deputy City Manager Steve Rost says they're now recommending that the hours be cut back. He says private parking options exist downtown in the evening that don't exist during the day. At the same time, Rost says patrons of restaurants and bars aren't interested in coming back out just to feed more coins in parking meters. Also, Rose says it was hard to explain to the public that the two-hour daytime parking limit doesn't apply at night.
Rost says the city is not recommending a rollback of downtown Champaign parking rates. While stressing that the final decision is up to the city council, Rose says the policy of charging 75 cents an hour in the heart of downtown with lower rates on the periphery is working. But city officials will propose new signage to explain parking policy --- including signs that encourage the use of the new downtown parking deck and surface parking lots for long-term parking. Rost says they also want to install pay-stations along some rows of parking meters --- allowing motorists to pay by debit or credit card.
The debate over cleanup plans at the 5th and Hill gas plant site continued Tuesday night during a Champaign City Council study session. City Council members generally support the plan --- but only up to a point.
Some neighbors of the old manufactured gas plant site say Ameren's year-long multi-million dollar cleanup plan fails to address contaminants leaking into groundwater that may appear in flooded basements. But project manager Brian Martin says follow-up testing at the request of those neighbors has found no sign of toxic chemicals in yards or basements. He says testing in basements, of sump pump water, and soil vapors turned up nothing to cause concern about exposure.
The Illinois EPA is backing Ameren's cleanup plan. But Claudia Lennhoff of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers says the agency needs to conduct additional testing to see if toxic vapors are escaping from groundwater into basements. She says other state environmental agencies conduct vaporization testing, and the Illinois EPA should do the same.
While generally backing the cleanup plan, City Council members put off a vote directing staff to starting planning for the eventual redevelopment of the 5th and Hill site. Many members say they want to see how the cleanup goes, before committing the city to anything. Mayor Jerry Schweighart says "there are too many unknowns at this time".
Governor Pat Quinn says shuttered historic sites could reopen by summer.
The Chicago Democrat says he is committed to opening them by June 30, even though his proposed budget calls for leaving them closed.
We've got to get a little more money. We've made some reorganization, so the historic sites are going to get done as quickly as possible," the governor said at a stop in Savoy yesterday.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich closed a dozen historic sites and state parks last year to help fill a budget deficit. After Quinn became governor, he reopened the parks and said he would do the same for the historic sites, including the farm owned by Abraham Lincoln's family in Coles County.
Quinn now says money for reopening them will come from merging the agencies that oversee natural resources and historic sites.
With Champaign County Democratic leadership meeting tonight, there's uncertainty over whether their leader will resign.
Party Chairman Tony Fabri says he's thinking about stepping down from the post and concentrating his time on being the county's elected auditor. Fabri has come under fire for spending little time in the office and being inaccessible since he was appointed auditor in 2006 and won a full term last year. Fabri defends his handling of the auditor's office, which he says has won awards for its performance. But he admits that the backlash has made him think.
"Given the criticism I've been hearing lately -- some of it constructive, some of it just wrong -- some of it's been very helpful and I think I need to focus my attention on the office I was elected to serve," said Fabri.
Fabri won't say if he plans to resign at tonight's Democratic Central Committee meeting or what he'll otherwise tell members. The second-in command in the party leadership, Al Klein, says Fabri hasn't told him anything about resigning tonight, though he says Fabri has brought up the possibility in the past.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has returned 44 maximum-security inmates who were transferred out of Pontiac Correctional Center to the prison.
Pontiac prison was targeted for closing by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who claimed prisoners could be housed more cheaply at Thomson Correctional Center in western Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn announced earlier this month the facility will remain open.
Department of Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp said the maximum-security inmates were transferred Tuesday from Menard Correctional Center. The transfer brings the total population of Pontiac prison to 1,105. Schnapp didn't say why the transfers took place.
Pontiac prison was set to close on Dec. 31, 2008, but a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents some prison workers, halted the process.
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